According to a survey completed by the National Association for College Admission Counseling (NACAC), grades are the most important factor in college admissions. Nearly 85% of survey respondents listed grades as being of “Considerable Importance.” Admission test scores placed a distant third behind “Strength of Curriculum” at 59.2%.
The study noted that small colleges tended to have a more “holistic” application review process while large colleges have a more “mechanical” process. The exceptions were large selective colleges that also used a “holistic” approach.
However, a holistic approach probably shouldn’t be interpreted that grades don’t matter. An article in USA Today, Grades pointless? Some colleges don’t care about GPAs, suggests that some of the most selective colleges don’t really care about grades. Part of the reasoning is that since US News doesn’t include it in the rankings and schools don’t always report class GPA, grades aren’t important. However, of the example schools provided, all but one listed grades in the highest category of importance in the Common Data Set.
You can look up colleges on the Big Future, College Data 411 Match, or US News and World Report websites and see how the colleges rank various admission factors from “Not Considered” to “Very Important.”